Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the airflow to the lungs is blocked by a relaxation of the muscles around the tongue and throat during your sleep. Respiration, which is a determining process for a quality sleep, depends on the muscles that control your jaw, tongue, and palate, which maintain the airflow coming in.
When these muscles relax, the jaw falls down and the tongue goes back, obstructing this airflow and causing respiratory difficulties, which go from snoring to apneas. When this happens, the brain is forced to do something called micro-awakenings, which consist on a pause in your dreaming so that your body can recover the respiratory rhythm.
Sleep apnea is considered serious when there are more than 30 breathing interruptions or reduction episodes per hour. Just like snoring, sleep apnea is most common in men, but occurs in women as well, especially during or after a menopause.
If you wake up tired or with massive headaches, if your snoring is too loud, or if you spend the days feeling sleepy and tired to death, you may be among the 25 million adults who are estimated to have sleeping apnea in the US. This problem can be solved with some easy and efficient treatments without side effects.
Most sleep apnea patients don’t have one unique reason or source, making it difficult to diagnose and prevent, but there are several different treatments performed by your dentist and doctor who can help reduce the problem.
Having a misaligned jaw is one of the factors that increase the risk of suffering from apnea. This can be fixed by visiting a cosmetic dentist or orthodontist to get fitted for braces with rubber bands to get your jaw back to its optimal position.
Losing weight might work as one of the first steps to get rid of apnea, since obesity is one of the factors that have associated to the problem, but usually further treatment is still needed, and this is where your dentist can help.
First, make sure you have sleep apnea by using a new device that measure apnea and its respiratory consequences during your sleep. It’s a diagnostic device that consists of just two wires: one that goes to the nasal cannula and the other one goes to a finger, connected to an oximeter. Through an algorithm, this system measures the oxygen saturation, the heart frequency, the snoring and the body position.
Your dentist can refer you to a specialist who provides these devices to the patient used at home to measure sleep. The alternative is detecting apnea is through PSG (overnight polysomnogram), which is conducted overnight at a sleep laboratory.
After reading and interpreting results, if apnea is detected, experienced cosmetic and general dentists can provide the patient with a mandibular advance device and evaluate its efficiency and reduction level. This system works especially for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. The most notable limitation of this treatment is that these devices work only if the obstruction origin is at the tongue.
Non-Dental and Other Options
Another effective treatment includes the application of CPAP (Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP machines force pressurized air through a facial mask, preventing the closing of those muscles that are important for the breathing process. This works as an air splint that helps to keep the airway opens while you sleep. A CPAP machine consists on three different parts: a mask that fits over the nose, and is maintained with straps during your sleep, a motor that blows air, and a large tube called cannula that connects the motor to the mask. These machines are quiet, small, and lightweight, suitable for traveling, which is important if you suffer from this condition.
Besides reducing the condition problems, such as sleepiness and snoring, this treatment also decreases the risk of other associated conditions. For example, studies have shown that CPAP might help to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack. Despite all the benefits, CPAP machines can become difficult to get used to; most people find difficulties in sleeping for the first few nights.
If you find stomach muscles discomfort or stomach bloating after the first few nights using the CPAP machine, you may have to contact your doctor, since some simple adjustments to the machine can solve the problem.
Although CPAP is the most common and traditional treatment for sleep apnea, visiting a dentist and going for the mouth device or oral appliances therapy appears as the best treatment and solution to your problem if you can’t tolerate or haven’t been helped by CPAP.
The last options for apnea, besides the two mentioned treatments, are surgical options, which include a variety of procedures, all of them having varying rate success and side effect. Besides, not everyone is suitable for these kinds of procedures, and the decision of whether a surgical procedure will benefit the patient for reducing apnea belongs to an otolaryngologist.